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THE SHE CREATURE (1956)

""She comes from the beginning of time – huge and indestructible! And I’m the force who has given her life!"

SHE.jpg (25321 bytes)

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Starring: Chester Morris, Marla English, Lance Fuller, Tom Conway, Cathy Downs, Ron Randell, Freda Inescort, Paul Dubov, William Hudson, Paul Blaisdell

Screenplay:Lou Rusoff

Synopsis: Dr Carlo Lombardi (Chester Morris), a carnival spiritualist, gazes out at the ocean as he thinks about a creature he has called into being. Lombardi’s thoughts are disturbed by the barking of a dog, and he chases the animal away with the force of his will. A set of strange footprints appears on the sand; Lombardi follows them to a beach house. Nearby, a party is being held at the Chappels’, where Mr Chappel (Tom Conway) teases his wife (Freda Inescort) about her belief in Lombardi. Mrs Chappel explains that Lombardi has predicted that something terrible will happen by the ocean, and tells her husband of Lombardi’s assistant, Andrea (Marla English), who can be hypnotically regressed into a former life. The Chappels’ daughter, Dorothy (Cathy Downs), has fallen for Ted Erickson (Lance Fuller), a Professor of Psychic Research who is sceptical of Lombardi’s claims. Meanwhile, Lombardi has entered the beach house and found the bodies of a man and a woman, both murdered. Dorothy and Ted walk on the beach, and Dorothy’s dog, which earlier on had disturbed Lombardi, leads them to the beach house. The two see Lombardi leave. Ted finds the bodies and sends Dorothy for the police, who discover a large wet footprint and a trail of seaweed. Ted tells Lt James (Ron Randell) that he saw Lombardi. Lombardi returns to the carnival, where Johnny (Paul Dubov), a carny, tells him that he heard Andrea scream, and that he found her in a trance so deep he thought she was dead. Lombardi warns Johnny to mind his own business, then joins Andrea. While she is still under hypnosis, Lombardi commands her to remember nothing. When she comes to, Andrea becomes distressed, telling Lombardi that she hates him and wants to get away. Lombardi tells her that he possesses her, and that she will never be able to leave him. Ted comes in with Lt James. Ted and Andrea are immediately attracted to one another. After identifying Lombardi, Ted is allowed to leave. He invites Andrea for a coffee and she accepts, but Lombardi wills her to change her mind. James questions Lombardi, scoffing at his claim that a creature from the beginning of time was responsible for the killings, and books him on suspicion of murder. The next morning, Mr Chappel suggests to Ted that the two of them go into partnership with Lombardi and exploit the publicity surrounding his predictions. Ted rejects the offer contemptuously. Chappel sends his lawyer to get Lombardi out of jail, then offers Lombardi a partnership which he accepts, intimating that another killing will soon occur. That night, Lombardi puts Andrea into a deep trance, ordering her to go back in time, then to leave her body. Outside, there is an explosion in the water and a strange, ethereal shape appears. As it climbs from the water it takes form, materialising as a hideous monster (Paul Blaisdell). Lombardi and the creature make brief, psychic contact. Then, obeying Lombardi’s will, the creature breaks into the apartment of Johnny, making him its next victim….

Comments: Ah, The She Creature! It’s The Search For Bridey Murphy (1956) meets The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) meets Svengali (1931) - a high concept movie if ever there was one, and one of the more enjoyable farragoes of nonsense it’s been my pleasure to come across recently. Watching it, you get a very clear mental image of the problem confronting the AIP hierarchy while trying to put it together. On one hand, they wanted to exploit the reincarnation/previous life fad of the mid-fifties. On the other, it was an AIP film, so it had to have a monster! Solution: a beautiful girl who in a previous existence was a monster! And what a monster! No-one who has seen the Creature could ever forget her. Not only is she a bizarre composite of scales, claws and tusks, but she is also the bustiest monster ever to grace the silver screen; a characteristic that has caused decades of science fiction aficionados to dub her "the mammary monster". If you were to judge by physical dimensions alone, you would suspect that the Creature was actually a distant ancestor of Jayne Mansfield.

However, Marla English isn’t badly cast as the modern incarnation. Not only is she quite lovely, her cleavage is nothing short of spectacular (check out the expression on Lance Fuller the first time he lays eyes on it - I mean, on her). Had the screenplay been better, Marla English might have made a mark in this movie, because in some ways her Andrea is one of the more interesting AIP heroines. While it is her love for Ted Erickson that inspires her, Andrea nevertheless has the strength of character to fight off Lombardi’s hold on her, and twice saves Ted’s life by diverting the Creature after it has been ordered to kill him. (One of the film’s funnier scenes is the first attempt on his life, when Ted stands on the beach, gazing off into space, while the enormous, heavy Creature sneaks up on him without him hearing it!)

However, in the end Andrea just spends too great a proportion of her screentime lying on a couch in a trance for her to qualify as a really successful heroine. ("How come you get to just lie there, while I have to do all the work?" complained Paul Blaisdell during production. "You sound like my boyfriend," responded Ms English). As Ted Erickson, Lance Fuller gives new meaning to the expression "solid leading man". His immobility is quite remarkable. In fact, he barely changes expression unless in the company of Marla English, when his facial contortions begin to suggest constipation. As a hero/scientist, Ted really is a washout. His cornball routine about what a "square" he is, and how he could never fit into Dorothy’s world, is meant to make us admire his modesty, but all I felt inclined to do was agree with every word he said. Ted’s stated occupation is "Professor of Psychic Research", but besides bad-mouthing Lombardi for "putting hypnotism back twenty years" we get very little evidence of either his qualifications or his skill. The only thing remotely scientific we see him doing is gazing at a coloured liquid in a glass flask (ah, those coloured liquids!) then inspecting a cage of rats, none of which would seem to have much to do with Psychic Research. However, there’s no doubt that Ted is The Good Scientist. How can I tell? Simple: he wears a shirt and a striped tie with a white lab coat over the top, needs glasses, and smokes a pipe.

In contrast, Lombardi is The Bad Scientist. One look at his floppy black cravat is enough to tell you that. As Lombardi, Chester Morris’ performance is, in a word, intense. If Lance Fuller looks constipated, Morris seems constantly on the verge of rupturing something. The scenes between the two are, however, rather interesting. Lombardi has all the characteristics of your stock movie charlatan, and it is a bit of a shock to find that his powers, like those of Svengali himself (on whom Lombardi has modeled himself to the extent of pinching his dialogue), are genuine. Poor old Ted spends most of the film trying to prove Lombardi a fraud, but finally has to concede defeat (you’d think someone who had devoted his life to Psychic Research would be delighted to discover a person with Lombardi’s powers, not disappointed, but not our Ted!) and to watch as Lombardi and Andrea tour the country raking in the dough that he himself declined to take a cut of. (Rich as Lombardi becomes, he never seems to think of buying Andrea a second dress. Perhaps he despaired of finding another one quite that see-through.) There are slow patches in The She Creature - lots of them, in fact, the scenes between Lombardi and Andrea becoming boringly repetitious - but there are also enough laughs to keep you watching.

The film’s actual comedy relief, consisting of a pair of bickering Swedish domestics and King the Killer Dog, is pretty painfully unfunny, but fortunately there are a lot of unintentional giggles as well. Most of these come in one of two forms. First, there’s Bob, Dorothy’s perpetually sozzled ex-fiancÚ, who staggers through the film glass in hand insulting Ted and trying to paw his former girlfriend. Towards the end, in what is surely meant to be a moment of high emotion, Bob empties his glass and goes off arm-in-arm with Dorothy. Unfortunately, this heroic gesture is somewhat spoilt by the film’s need for another "Lombardi demonstration". Since these scenes were obviously filmed in one sitting, we see Bob back in his former position, directly behind Ted’s left shoulder and guzzling a martini. The film’s other inadvertent comic creation is Ron Randell’s Lieutenant James. From the moment he visualises the Creature’s wet footprint by pouring flour all over it, and disposes of the excess by wiping his hands on the crime scene, we know we’re in for a good time. His constant grumbling about Lombardi’s refusal to make things simple by just confessing gets funnier each time, while his repeated and increasingly frustrated exclamations of, "I can’t touch him!" begin to suggest repressed homosexual tendencies.

The Creature is the star, however, and her screentime is depressingly brief. If she was a bit more sprightly she’d barely be onscreen at all, but the Creature ranks as perhaps the slowest monster of them all, forcing her victims into embarrassing inaction to allow her to kill them. When she breaks into Johnny’s apartment he just lies there until she finally shuffles across the room to his bed (believe me, Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946) has nothing on this guy!). When she approaches Lt James he empties his gun into her and, when that doesn’t work, throws it at her (why do they always do that!?), then just stands there and lets her hit him. The idiocy of this performance is topped only by that of Tom Conway’s Chappel. Having signed his death warrant early on by trying to corrupt Our Ted, Chappel repeats James’ gun emptying/throwing routine exactly, then runs into the house without bothering to shut the door. When the Creature - eventually - catches up with him, he dodges behind his desk. Then, obviously realising that so clumsy a monster won’t be able to catch him that way, he dodges back out again and lets her grab him. The Creature’s other onscreen victims are a couple of teenagers caught necking in a car - don’t you just loving seeing the traditions maintained?? - and of course, Lombardi himself, killed after the Creature/Andrea resists his command to kill Ted. In the Creature’s final moment, she hovers over Andrea in a brief scene that is oddly touching, then returns to wherever it was that Lombardi summoned her up from ("the beginning of time"). The She Creature ends with a question mark, suggesting a sequel that never eventuated. Thankfully, that wasn’t quite the last the film world saw of "the mammary monster". Known as "Cuddles" to her creator, Paul Blaisdell, the Creature did sterling service for AIP. Made over, she reappeared in producer Alex Gordon’s Voodoo Woman (1957) (tarted up in a blonde wig, no less), while her head had a cameo in How To Make A Monster (1958).

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